Want tragic? Then visit the VIP area of an Irish music festival

Brian Boyd: If you must go to a music festival . . . please keep it to yourself

Video shows Taoiseach dancing, singing, and waving to the Croke Park crowd at gig. Video: Andrew Watchorn

 

A bizarre rumour doing the rounds suggests that a music fan actually travelled to an Irish music festival, presented his/her ticket, spent an enjoyable weekend at said event, and returned home on the Sunday night – without once giving a regular five-minute update on what they saw, ate or drank during their time there. I know, I know: most probably it’s an urban myth.

The Silly Social Sharing Season began last weekend with Forbidden Fruit. The volume will be turned up until a crescendo is reached in September, when the contemporary version of a Marian apparition reveals itself in a field in Co Laois under the name “Electric Picnic”.

Just as MTV doesn’t actually play any music these days, every Irish music festival is now called – trigger warning alert here – a music and arts festival. By “arts”, what is meant ranges from media types talking to other media types about the media, to new media types talking to other new media types about new media.

Given that every Irish music festival remind us every few seconds of how eco-friendly it is, would it not save on the carbon footprint to just round up all the usual suspects, herd them into St Stephen’s Green for a weekend, and just let them agree with themselves?

Between the warm cans of Harp and the offal burgers at the Lisdoonvarna festivals in the 1980s and today’s organic ostrich burger and furnished Yurts with 12v power tables, the Irish music festival has become as self-mythologised as the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races.

The pathetic elitism of so-called music fans doesn’t help. Those sneers directed at Enda Kenny for playing air-guitar at Bruce Springsteen were maliciously motivated by the fact that a 65-year-old Mayo man was only doing what the rest of the enthralled country was doing. There may be many reasons to dislike An Taoiseach, but his knowledge of culture would put most of his air-guitar critics to shame. Plus, he’s younger than Springsteen.

The fact that festivals have entered the mainstream and taken such a hold over our summer discourse and media coverage is down to their transgressive past, in which Altamont and Woodstock still conjure up images of stabbings, Hells Angels gangs and narcotic licentiousness.

Now, by telling everyone you are going to a summer music festival (and you have to tell, otherwise it is a “if a tree falls in the forest” conundrum), you are signalling that despite your mundane suburban existence and dull character, there is the possibility – however fantastical – that you will have a threesome and take some acid.

Temporary liberation

“A festival celebrates temporary liberation from the established order. It marks the suspension of all hierarchy, rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions,” wrote author George McKay about the sociological impact of music festivals.

This is where their abject hypocrisy reveals itself: hierarchy, rank and privilege become even more exaggerated at the summer gatherings .

The amount of different wristbands at the bigger events would put the workings of apartheid South Africa to shame. With this wristband, you don’t have to queue; with another wristband, you are removed from hoi polloi to a gilded, waiter-service area populated by people who read the weather on TV3 and an actor who was once on Fair City.

This is music: the great egalitarian rebel yell, an art form that salutes meritocracy and abhors privilege. But put that music into a field and people are divided up by “status”: Jim Crow laws for the hipsters.

There is truly nothing on God’s earth as tragically pathetic as the VIP enclosure at an Irish music festival. There are only two VIPs in Ireland: Bono and Rory McIlroy. To make up the numbers, the VIP bars at music festivals are populated with what are known as “media personalities”.

But it is the compulsion of Irish festivalgoers to never, ever, ever shut up, giving us a running commentary of what they have just done, what they are now doing, and what they will be doing next, that will make this a long, hot, irritating summer.

Seized by Snapchat

McKay wrote that a music festival could and should be “crowds of people seized by a sudden awareness of their power and unification through a celebration of their own ideas and creations”. Today its crowds of people seized by a sudden awareness that they can Snapchat themselves ordering the carpaccio di radicchio at a “boutique” music festival.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the famous Coachella Music Festival in the Californian desert. In the run-up, local gyms advertise “Get Cut for Coachella”, a 30-day workout. The heated debate about the line-up of craft beers takes precedence over the musical line-up itself.

They say of Coachella that it places an excellent roll call of musicians in the middle of the desert and invites privileged brats to come and completely ignore them while they tweet about themselves instead.

Frankly, if it’s some good old-fashioned sex’n’drugs and rock’n’roll you want, skip the summer music festivals and wait until September, for the National Ploughing Championships.

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